Tag Archives: Paul Tillich

Playing the Percentages

Theologian David Fitch has a good post on the debate about Rob Bell’s new book

I blame Rob Bell for this inflammatory mess (along with his publisher) because of the excessive bating and provoking all in an obvious attempt to attract attention to his book. This is no way to pastor I say. This is no way to lead. (but it does sell books).  On the other hand, to be even handed, I blame people on the Neo-Reformed side as well, people like Kevin DeYoung. Sorry Kevin, I know you mean well but when you do a 20 page review that largely argues out of an incredibly narrow view of orthodoxy with little to no appreciation for history before the 1920′s,  it comes off as defensive and parochial. For both sides, the tactics reveal a lack of a place to engage this issue productively for the furtherance of the Kingdom beyond our own personal enclaves (or ambitions). And yet discussing this issue is essential in order to be shaped for a posture for Mission that has been lacking amongst the traditional evangelicals, the church I am part of and remain committed to.

I have been kind of intrigued by the entire debate… not so much that I will read the book or any of the debate but the nature of the debate in itself.  Let me explain.  Theological debates never used to be like this.  They were much more private events, often done through letters, in person, or in small circulation academic journals.  Book sales were small.  I am going out on a limb and say that Rob Bell will probably outsell Barth’s Commentary on Romans in a couple of months.  What used to be a private and contemplative debate has been sped up tremendously through blogs, Twitter, and competing book deals and the resulting conference speaking gigs.  All of this is driven by Christian publishing companies that are either shareholder held or are owned by News Corp, famous for taking sides and then profiting from the division.

There is always going to be different ideas in the church.  I have some reservations with Brian McLaren’s theology that we have talked privately over (not sure who is right on that… been thinking about it for ten years) and even with David Fitch, I still am trying to figure out his theology of social justice and how to work on it in my context.  Hopefully in the next decade I can put to words my issues with it but it needs some more thinking about but my theological reservations don’t need to be tweeted, blurted, and raced out.  At the same time, I need to present my ideas in the expectation that some of them are going to be offensive to others.  I am a Methodist.  I am quite confident that my theology is correct but some of my beliefs stand in contrast to my own denomination even let alone others yet I don’t feel the need to refute and inflame others all of the time.  I have my questions about Brian McLaren’s theology, David Fitch’s social gospel and CFL allegiances (I think but check back in 2018), Darryl Dash’s theological worldview (he’s Baptist, same could be said for Santosh Ninan and Kyle Martin), Len Hjalmarson (Anabaptist),  Randall Friesen (moved to Alberta and cheered for Brett Favre), or anyone that I know that doesn’t subscribe to a liberal Free Methodist worldview that I do yet i think we have managed to have better discussions than what we saw over this latest dust up.  We are always going to have things that divide us (the Hamilton Tiger Cats?  Really?!) but can’t we have these discussions without cutting each other off and using the terms heretic.  Good grief, Tillich and Barth continued on their correspondence despite seeing the world in very different ways (with evidence that Tillich and a pantheist.

I wonder when we are going to realize that speed isn’t always vital or even desirable in theological debates.  The rush to be first or provocative may appease your masters at News Corp, Google, and Amazon but is it adding anything to the church.  I don’t think it is.  I think what we gained in speed was lost in perspective, contemplation, and depth of dialogue. 

Theological Debate as a Blood Sport

Jamie Arpin Ricci has some thoughts around the debate on Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity.  I am going to quote a big chunk of it here but make sure you go to Jamie’s site and read the entire post.

McLaren, who finds himself in a cultural context that is incredibly polarized theologically, politically, etc., has too often been the target of ungodly attack.  This is not to say he is above criticism, but rather acknowledging that he has been subject to indefensible treatment by many people.  In light of this reality, it does not surprise me that Brian would very quickly want to make some distinctions for his readers up front, which I believe was his intention with the cited material.  That is entirely understandable.  That being said, I believe he pushed too hard, writing more for the extreme critics than for those of us who might be cautiously interested.  As a result, I believe that he unintentionally alienated many of his readers.

I am not suggesting that Brian was simply misunderstood, that if we could just understand his intentions, this would all be cleared up.  Of course not.  First, the poor communication is his mistake, one that should be acknowledged.  Frankly. it is a small issue, worth mentioning only for clarity.  Second, he clearly does present beliefs that run contrary to what many of us hold as sacred.  This is not an indictment, but rather an acknowledgment that, beyond the misunderstanding that exacerbated the problem, there are still very real, underlying differences.

I point this example out because it illustrates a dynamic that is problematic.  It seems to me that both sides are so focused on their position, be it defend or attacking, that they continue to talk- yell past each others.  Again, there are exceptions to this rule on both sides, but even they are not saved from getting caught in the cross fire.  I recently read a very gracious critique of the book that one defending blogger (who is a notable voice and who I greatly respect) cited as unreasonable, bashing and even jealous.  Was I missing something?  Can we not disagree on something graciously without resorting to character assassination?

Frankly, I am ashamed.  I am ashamed that on a public platform before a watching world, sisters and brothers in Christ are letting this get so out of hand.  Disagreements within the Church are nothing new and will always be with us.  It is right to be passionate about what we believe is true, even taking to task those with whom we have concern.  I’m not advocating some limp hope that “we can all just get along”.  I am advocating for some grace, self-restraint, humility and- for the love of God- maturity.  Or are we hoping that the world will know we are Christians by our fights with each other?

Without question there are some serious issues at hand.  I have some grave reservations about some of the theology I see being put forth in sectors of the church, be it emerging, missional, evangelical or otherwise.  However, we need to acknowledge the relational dynamic at play here.  For myself, I have seen people who I consider dear friends publicly go after each other, feeling helpless to do anything about it.  I even fear that this post will only fuel the fire.

I have long felt that the American political discourse of hyper partisanship continues to shape the way we discuss theology in the church.  Of course this is a really big issue because it isn’t as if we have a proud tradition of doing this without the influence of FOX News (how many wars were fought during the early stages of the Protestant reformation over theology?).  Add in the time lapse in which we order something from Amazon, read it, and then rush to review or write about it in internet time (often to capitalize in on the traffic that comes from an trending topic) and no wonder why the discussions seem to be lacking.

I was thinking back to the emergence of neo-orthodoxy in the 1930s amongst Barth, Bultmann, Brunner, Tillich, Bonhoeffer and others.  They debated largely in private through letters, in person, and in more thought through essays in journals.  The debates were a lot more private and a lot more measured, partly because there was time for theological reflection.  The net has taken that away from us and has given us immediacy.  We know it has hurt journalism.  Look at how many times NBC has referred to Michael J. Fox when they meant Terry Fox on their broadcasts.  Today I was reading the news online and saw a half-dozen factual errors (not just differences in opinions but obvious mistakes in facts).  In some ways “internet time” is great but in other ways, it has hurt our ability to discuss substantial issues and I think we have to take into account it’s influence.

We also need to take into account what we are doing is in public.  Ever since Google Alerts has come out, I have received mentions of jordoncooper.com and Jordon Cooper when they are used online.  I have seen my writings misquoted and misconstrued by those worried about those of us in the emerging church.  I have no problems with a difference of opinions, after all you are entitled to be wrong 🙂 but some of the stuff never represented what I said of believe.  Later on I have had the privilege of meeting the people who have said what they said and they have no idea the impact of the crap they said.

One of the things I love about living in Saskatchewan is that there is only one million of us and we do run into each other.  My MLA goes through Wendy’s till at Safeway.  One of the reasons why I stopped talking partisan politics is that I really like people from both sides of the ideological divide.  When I posted some photos of Flickr that showed a city councilor, I was contacted that day to see if they could get a print because they saw the photos and liked them.  Somewhere along the way we forgot that this stuff is read by the people we are talking about.

Of course we also have to take into account how bloggers get played by the publishing houses.  In exchange for “review copies”, they get to turn us into their own personal marketing whores.  You don’t think Harper Collins isn’t feeling pretty happy for the “buzz” that we generate from their free cheaply produced review copies.  We get to feel like “insiders” when we are marketing pawns, rushing to review the book on Amazon and posting the reviews on our blogs.  Harper Collins (as a division of News Corp.) has an obligation to the bottom line, not to the faith.

I think Jamie is right.  We need to have passionate debate about theological matters but there has to be a better way of doing this than what has been acceptable practice for the last couple of years.  That is a project worthy of some time and effort.